Luke Spaete didn’t win Tackle Tom’s ice fishing derby at Lake Cascade, but he got a pretty good consolation prize — the new state record perch.
Spaete’s fish weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces and measured 15.75 inches, topping the old record of 2 pounds, 9.6 ounces and 15.5 inches that was first set in 1976 at Wilson Lake in Jerome County.
That record was tied in 2012, and the tying fish was also caught at Lake Cascade.
It was not a case of beginner’s luck. Spaete, of Boise, has spent about 10 days fishing at Lake Cascade this winter.
Spaete and other ice anglers have consistently been pulling fish weighing more than 2 pounds from the reservoir, and it’s been expected for several years to produce the next state record.
Spaete was fishing on Feb. 15 during the tournament and had landed 13-inch and 14-inch perch when he saw a bigger fish appear on his fish finder at about 25 feet.
“All of the sudden all the little ones went away, and this giant mark showed up,” he said. “It was one giant blob, and I thought, ‘Don’t miss this one.’ ”
The fish hit his lure, a Hali Slender Spoon, which had a small, light hook, and Spaete worried the hook might straighten before he got the fish to the surface. When he pulled it through the ice, “its belly and dorsal fin were scraping the sides of the 8-inch hole,” he said.
He knew it was a big fish, and fat — it had a 13-inch girth — but “I really didn’t think of it being a state record.”
Later that day, he weighed the fish at Tackle Tom’s, and owner Tom McGlashen knew it was.
“I did the classic double-take,” McGlashen said. “I said, ‘Holy cow, we got a new state record.’ ”
But the scale at Tackle Tom’s wasn’t certified, so they took the fish down the street to local grocery store D9, which has certified scales.
Spaete, 30, is a Boise State University geosciences researcher who moved to Idaho from Michigan in 2009. He grew up ice fishing in the Midwest, and said he was surprised how good it is in Idaho.
He promotes the sport by volunteering at the annual youth ice fishing day at Horsethief Reservoir, and for the past two years has hosted the Hardwater Classic ice fishing derby on Lake Cascade, which was held Jan. 25.
Spaete’s fishing partner, Mike Kosinski of Orofino, won the tournament last weekend with a three-perch stringer that weighed 5.96 pounds.
In perch angling, the benchmark for a trophy fish is about 2 pounds. The world record is 4 pounds, 3 ounces and 18 inches long. It was caught in New Jersey in 1865, and it is the longest-standing record for freshwater fish in North America.
McGlashen said he wasn’t surprised to see a new state record after the old one was tied two years ago, but there was a lull last winter and no fish came close.
McGlashen said he saw lots of big perch caught last summer, and winter is typically when fish are the heaviest because females are laden with eggs and also voraciously feeding.
In the old saying “timing is everything,” Gary Wiese of Eagle caught a perch on Feb. 16 that also broke the old state record, but did not top Spaete’s fish.
McGlashen said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a bigger perch caught before ice fishing season ends.
Mike Hall of Ogden, Utah, is a pro staffer for Mack’s Lures and perch fishing specialist who tracks trophy fishing destinations.
He said Lake Cascade is currently the top trophy perch fishery in the West and among the best in the United States, and he’s made several trips there this winter.
“It’s definitely a shining star,” he said. “There isn’t a (perch) fishery in the world that wouldn’t trade for what you have there.”
He’s been getting numerous calls and inquiries from anglers in the Midwest asking about Lake Cascade and its jumbo perch.
“That’s quite a compliment,” he said. “It’s a rare thing to see a place that produces 2-pound fish consistently.”
There’s still about a month before the perch spawn, and Hall said those big fish have growing room.
So will Spaete’s record stand?
There’s two ways to look at it. The old record has been tied once and topped twice, and all three were from Lake Cascade. Both larger fish were caught last weekend.
But that old record also stood for 38 years, so perch that big are rare.
Hall and McGlashen think there are bigger ones in the reservoir.
“You’re definitely going to see the record broken at Lake Cascade,” Hall said. “If you want to fish for a state record, that’s the place to go.”